This past week will certainly go down as one of the busiest and most eventful weeks in my legislative career. I have to confess to being both an over-committer and an over-achiever. I've taken on a lot of weighty responsibilities this year, and many of them are all coming to a head.
BUDGET BALANCED, LONG BILL COMPLETE
The first half of last week was largely consumed by Conference Committee negotiations to close out the budget. Despite overwhelming support for the budget package in both the House and Senate, there were differences between the chambers that proved difficult to reconcile. And a deadline was looming.
By tradition, the legislature always try to finish the budget well before the end of the session to beat what's known as "the 10-day clock." This is a reference to Article IV, Section 11 of the Colorado Constitution, which requires the governor to sign or veto bills within 10 days of delivery to his office, unless the legislature will have adjourned by that time, in which case he has 30 days to make up his mind whether to sign or veto. "Beating the 10-day clock" means getting a bill to the governor while there is still an opportunity to override vetoes, and that deadline was Friday, April 27. Our constitution gives the governor line item veto authority over any appropriation of funds. With a two-thirds supermajority in each chamber the legislature can override the governor's veto.
To make a long story short, the Long Bill conference committee report was adopted in the Senate and House on Thursday and the Long Bill was delivered to the governor's office on Friday morning. He'll have to sign or veto it before the session adjourns on May 9. Typically, the governor signs the bill, but vetoes small portions with the line item veto authority. There has been an ongoing feud between the executive and legislative branches over Long Bill vetoes, particularly when it comes to "footnotes" that we place on various line items in the budget. Last year we overrode every veto Gov. Hickenlooper made within the Long Bill, all of which were confined to footnotes. We'll see what happens this year...
WHAT A WEDNESDAY!
After months of anticipation, hours of committee testimony and weeks of review by the Colorado Bar Association, my Civil Unions bill, SB 2, was debated on the Senate floor on Wednesday, April 25. The debate lasted all morning, and in fact didn't conclude until shortly after our lunch break that afternoon. I gave an encore performance of my speech from the year before, except this time I didn't skip over the part about Dave and our families, and I spent more time discussing legal documents and why they were no substitute for a legally recognized, committed relationship. But Sen. Shawn Mitchell stole the show.
Sen. Mitchell has long been an ardent opponent of legislation protecting the rights of gays and lesbians. I first met Shawn in 1993 when he was working for Attorney General Gale Norton as special counsel in the state's defense of Amendment 2, a case the state lost at each stage of the litigation, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. We have some history, and we've argued plenty on these issues (or as he once called it, "liberal harangue"). However, in recent years his position on relationship recognition for same-sex couples has been evolving, and he now concedes that there are reasons to support some sort of legislative remedy to the problems such couples face. I have a great deal of respect for the distance Shawn has come on these issues, although term limits will spare him from further harangue and my efforts to bring him along the rest of the way to equality.
Sen. Mitchell told me that he would vote for SB 2 if a few amendments were made. Early last week, he gave me copies of three amendments he had prepared. I struggled to find ways to accommodate his concerns without compromising my values and my objectives with SB 2. This Denver Post article does a good job of telling the story. Throughout the course of the debate Wednesday morning we were engaged in a discussion of his amendments, but ultimately I had to reject two of the three changes he wanted to offer, and he had to oppose SB 2. Not only did this add some drama to the debate, but it also caused us to delve deeper into why Civil Unions were needed, and why concessions could not be made. It was a fine debate: at times fiery, at times esoteric, but one of the most sincere and moving debates of the year. My proudest moments on the floor of the Senate have been spent debating this issue.
That afternoon, the Conference Committee on the budget met and resolved the remaining differences. The course of the budget debate never runs smooth, and before we sat down in conference some heated negotiations took place, but we ended up working until 8:00 pm to hammer out a deal. It was an exhausting day, but one of triumph and accomplishment.
On Thursday, the Senate again debated SB 2 on third reading, and then passed the bill on a vote of 23 to 12, just as we did last year.
AND THAT'S NOT ALL
Also last week I had several bills pass the Senate or move through committees. Here's a quick summary of the action, and as always, there is a complete list of all the bills I am sponsoring and their current status on my website:
- SB 104 passed out of Senate Appropriations Committee and won unanimous support on the Senate floor. This is my bill to consolidate various funding sources for addiction treatment for offenders in the criminal justice system, and to create greater accountability for how these dollars are spent. It was recommended by the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice ("CCJJ"), and it nows moves to the House where Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) is the sponsor.
- SB 163 was amended to refer the issue of misdemeanor crimes for drug possession to the CCJJ for study, along with a broader charge of creating a separate system for sentencing drug offenders. Today, drug offenders are charged and convicted under the same system of felonies for violent offenses. A proposal has been in the works to distinguish drug offenses, and the issues raised by SB 163 will be addressed in that effort.
- HB 1081 finally passed the Senate. This bill helps the Auraria campus in downtown Denver, home to Metro State, UCD and CCD.
- HB 1315 had a great committee hearing, but wasn't voted out of committee due to concerns about proposed amendments. This bill restores funding to the Governor's Energy Office and revises its mission. I spent quite a bit of time last week working to get this bill ready for another visit to committee next Tuesday.
- HB 1281 passed through its first committee in the Senate. This is a bill I am sponsoring with Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) to allow the state Medicaid program to approve pilot programs reforming the way medical providers are reimbursed. It allows collaborative efforts to move away from the "fee for service" system where providers earn more fees if they perform more services (think unnecessary tests and such), and instead reimburses them for taking care of people and keeping them healthy.
NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS
On Friday the 27th, the Senate took up Senate Memorial 3, which urged Congress to support the "Blunt Amendment." We defeated SM 3 on a vote of 20 to 15. The Colorado State Senate boasts the highest percentage of women senators in the nation, and we are not about to turn back the clock when it comes to women's rights. Together, the men and women of the Senate work to advance the rights of every Coloradan.
The "Blunt Amendment" would allow any employer or health insurer to block coverage for certain healthcare services for their employees and their families. It would do this by allowing employers, insurers and healthcare providers to deny services deemed "objectionable" on religious or moral grounds.
Coloradans adhere to a variety of faiths, all of which are deserving of respect. That means not allowing one group (like an employer, provider or health insurer) to impose its religious or moral beliefs onto others.
It was an interesting debate, and one that continued themes and refrains from the Civil Unions debate of the previous two days, but I am happy we defeated SM 3, just as Congress defeated the Blunt Amendment.
ONE AND A HALF WEEKS TO GO!
Unless we get called in on the weekend, there are only 8 working days left in the 2012 session. It's been a whirlwind experience, where an improving economy helped make our budget deliberations easier, but delays in the budget process have stacked up a backlog of bills that will race deadlines in these final 8 days. With the budget bill on the governor's desk and SB 2 sent over to the House to face an uncertain fate, some of my biggest projects are complete. It may seem like it's all downhill from here, but a lot of major topics remain. Wish us luck! Win lose or draw, the session must end no later than midnight on Wednesday, May 9.
HD 35 / SD 31 Town Hall Meeting with Rep. Peniston & Sen. Steadman
featuring our End of Session Wrap-Up!
Saturday, May 12, 2012, 10:00 am
Westminster Grange Hall, 73rd & Osceola St., Westminster
STAY IN TOUCH
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